Miss Alaska USA 2017 named SHI Cultural Ambassador
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has named the new Miss Alaska USA 2017, Alyssa London, as a cultural ambassador in an effort to further its mission to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures and to promote cross-cultural understanding.
London (Yáx̱ Ádi Yádi), a Tlingit Eagle of the Killerwhale Clan, won the title on Feb. 4 and will now contend in the Miss USA Competition. If she becomes Miss USA, she will vie for the title of Miss Universe.
London is the first Tlingit to hold the Miss Alaska USA title, and she was an impressive representative of her Tlingit culture during the competition, said SHI President Rosita Worl. With her victory, she is now positioned to help spread awareness about Native cultures on a very public platform, said Worl, adding that she is expected to be interviewed on several national television programs.
“We are in a race against time to revitalize our Native languages and we are working to raise world awareness about Northwest Coast arts and to rightfully establish the art form as a national treasure,” Worl said. “Alyssa has already proven herself as a leader and cultural ambassador, and she is now in a unique position to put a big spotlight on our goals and issues.”
“She was a participant in SHI’s annual Latseen Leadership Academy, and she is a great role model for our youth.”
“I’m honored and humbled to officially accept the role of cultural ambassador to Sealaska Heritage,” London said. “Our goals are aligned, and I’m excited to represent my Native culture on the next public stage and with the support of SHI.”
London, an entrepreneur, radio host, motivational speaker and Stanford University graduate, entered the competition because she saw it as a platform to publicize her efforts to boost economic development in Alaska through Native art—a goal shared by SHI, which in recent years has taught skin-sewing to create a cottage industry, especially in rural areas where unemployment is high.
London founded Culture Story—a business through which she sells her own products featuring Tlingit designs—but she plans to use the company to showcase the work of artists and vendors.
“I want to solve the problem of economic development to bring more jobs and revenue to our artists in Southeast Alaska, and the Miss Alaska competition has given me a public platform to help do that,” London said.
London was given the name Yáx̱ Ádi Yádi (most precious child) by Clarence Jackson, a revered Tlingit elder of the Killerwhale Clan. Because Jackson Walked into the Forest before the name could be formally bestowed, a naming ceremony was held Feb. 17 at the Walter Soboleff Building, attended by clan members Todd Antioquia and Anthony Mallott, among others.
Antioquia and Mallott said Jackson took deep care in choosing names, and that London’s name reflects Jackson’s trust in her gifts and contributions to the Tlingit people over the course of her lifetime.
London said she was “blessed, honored and grateful” to be recognized in the ceremony.
As a cultural ambassador, London will work within her sphere of influence to raise the visibility of SHI programs and to promote Southeast Alaskan culture wherever appropriate and possible. She will also raise awareness about SHI’s new endowment, which was established to fund art, language and cultural programs for future generations.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artists Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.